|"What am I supposed to do with this again?"|
My first problem was with MapQuest, which told me to take a right off Robert Street to get to the outdoor dog training site, a one-acre field in West St. Paul. I MapQuested it two ways--using the street address, and using the intersection. The instructions were the same: turn right off Robert. So in 90 degree heat, with Rosie strapped in her carrier in the back and with the Jeep AC only marginally working, I turned right off of Robert Street and promptly got lost.
I could go into some detail here--about the gas station I stopped at for directions; the lugubrious gas station attendant who wanted to tell me his entire residential history, none of which involved St. Paul, while I worried that Rosie was baking in the back of the truck; the young matron who gave me incorrect directions (she might work for MapQuest, who knows?); the gardener I almost ran over later as I screeched to the side of a road and who finally set me straight, telling me i should have turned left off of Robert Street) but that would be boring. Just know that I was hot and frazzled and several minutes late when I pulled into the outdoor dog training area.
Seven other dogs, and their owners, were in a semicircle on a shaded concrete pad, listening to the instructor. Rosie and I dashed from the Jeep (she lives! she lives! she did not die of heatstroke!) and took our place in the semicircle. It was the first day of class, and Rosie wanted a little context. She tried to meet one of the dogs; its owner jerked the leash and pulled it away. She wanted to sniff the concrete; I made her sit. She then reverted to her only possible recourse in a frustrating situation like this: She barked.
The instructor looked at us. "I know you," she said. She had been at our house about six weeks before, giving us a one-on-one lesson on How to Stop Rosie from Barking at Milo, the Adorable Four-year-old Next Door.
(The lesson worked, after a fashion. If I have Rosie on a leash and if I have a pocket full of treats, Rosie no longer barks at Milo or his family. She looks at them, and if she stays quiet, I give her a treat. However, if I am not around or if I do not have treats at the ready, she barks. The training continues; our treat budget expands.)
So now we were here for recall training, hoping to get Rosie to come back reliably when she is off-leash so that we can go Up North in October without worrying that she will run off, get lost, or hold other hikers at bay farther up the trail.
The first thing to do, the instructor said, was play with our dogs for a few minutes. You all brought toys? Of course I had not. I had been a late registrant and had not gotten all the materials that everyone else had gotten. ("We sent you an email," the instructor said. "I didn't get it," I told her, testily.)
So while the other dog owners were playing tug and cavorting in the hot field with their sweet obedient already-well-trained dogs, Rosie and I were off to the side trying to play with an old saggy tennis ball that we had found, and which Rosie wanted nothing to do with. (It smells like other dogs! It has a hole in it! I want my frisbee!)
Besides, Rosie and I haven't played tug for more than a year, and I took all her puffy toys away from her some time ago because she kept disembowling them. So we kind of failed at the cavorting part of the class.
Over the course of the hour, we practiced the Name Game (the dog must respond immediately when we call its name); Leave It (the dog must abandon whatever interesting thing it is sniffing, peeing on, or rolling on); and then, finally, Come. To practice Come we were supposed to use a long lead of about 50 feet so that the dog can wander away from us and then return on our command. I, of course, had not brought a long lead because I had missed the email with all the detailed instructions. No toy, no lead, late to class. I was the dunce of the class, and I was frustrated. "We sent you an email," the instructor said. "I know, because I got a copy of it. Maybe it went to your spam."
"I didn't get it," I said.
"I know we sent it," she said again. The thought flashed through my mind: I am the customer who paid $80 for this class. I should not be told that I'm wrong. But that was just the heat and the frazzlement speaking.
So Rosie and I practiced on a regular leash, and she was fine, though she really wanted to get her bearings: sniff the yard, meet the other dogs, understand why she was there. As the sun beat down on the hard yellow grass, I called, Come! and she usually came, but then she also knew she was tethered to me by a six-foot-leather lede.
Finally, dripping sweat, we all reconvened at the shaded concrete pad. All the dogs sat nicely. Rosie stood, and barked. She sat quietly when I told her to, and then popped up again and barked. I could tell she was frustrated and confused.
The last game we played was hide-and-seek. One by one, we surrendered our dog to the instructor and then went and hid behind a wooden platform. The instructor played with the dog, and then we called, "Come!" and our dog was supposed to find us.
One by one the other dogs all played with the instructor and then took off like bullets when their owner called. I watched, nervously, anxiety rising in me: the instructor had just given Rosie four little salmon treats not five minutes before, and I figured there was no way Rosie was going to abandon her for me--all I had was Charlee Bears, and those are pretty much made out of yellow compressed chicken-flavored dust, as far as I can tell.
Still, when it was our turn, I handed over my dog and disappeared behind the platform. I crouched.
When I got the hand signal, I called: Rosie, come! Come on, girl! And I whistled.
And like a bullet, Rosie raced around the platform and leaped into my lap.
We might have been late and lost, frazzled and hot, we might have been lacking the proper equipment, but when push came to shove, my dog loves me and she found me, hiding and waiting.
I smooched her, squeezed her, gave her a fistful of Charlee Bears.
On the way home, I promised her that next week we will be on time, and we will have the proper equipment.
When I got home, I found that stupid email with all the instructors in my inbox. It even warned me not to trust MapQuest.